Danika reviews Kynship (The Way of Thorn and Thunder #1) by Daniel Heath Justice

kynshipThis was a book that I wanted to like much more than I did. I picked it up solely because of Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian’s rave review. Casey did warn that readers unfamiliar with fantasy will probably face a barrier to getting into Kynship, so I was expecting that, but unfortunately for me it never quite clicked.

By the far the best part about this book was the world. It’s a vast, richly-imagined world, informed by First Nations (specifically Cherokee) history and culture, but also complex in its own right. I loved the thought was put into that, but it did feel overwhelming at times, like this book was trying to do too many things at once. Specifically, the point that really prevented me from being absorbed in the story was the constant perspective shifts. By the halfway point, the novel is told from about 15 different perspectives. Some overlap by the end, but others don’t connect in this volume. I was expecting one main character, as the blurb on the back describes, but I felt like I spent so little time with her (Tarsa) that I didn’t get a chance to know her–which goes double for the characters that only get a few pages of their story told in the whole book.

I know this was completely a matter of personal taste: I can definitely see what other people see in this series, but it just wasn’t for me. I loved the Native take on fantasy, and I was especially interested in the zhe-kin, who go by zhe/hirs pronouns. I appreciate that there is a Native fantasy series out there with a bisexual female protagonist, but overall this felt scattered to me. If this book were expanded so that each character got a little more page time, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

That’s just my opinion, though, and if you’re at all intrigued, I recommend checking out Casey’s review as well.


Danika reviews The Color Purple by Alice Walker


It’s hard to know what to write about a book like this, which is so well renowned, and so important. This was a work that I’d heard mentioned many, many times, and one that I felt a little ashamed of not having already read. (In fact I had multiple people say that they thought I had already read this when I pulled it out to read.) So it seemed like the obvious choice to start out my Year of Reading In Color.

It’s funny the sort of things you take in about a classic book before you read it. I knew this was supposed to be an excellent, moving novel. I knew it covered dark subject matter, and it seemed to be referenced as quite bleak. I also knew there was some lesbian element to the book, though this always seemed to be an afterthought in reviews, which made me think it was subtextual. I didn’t know that the book was an epistolary novel, complete with misspellings and a lack of quotation marks. I didn’t know that the lesbian relationship in not at all subtextual, and I would argue the heart of the book is love between women. I also didn’t know that despite the dark material, this is an incredibly life-affirming book.

And it does cover dark material. In fact, Celie’s letters to God (the format of the book) begin with her description of being raped by her father. After leaving her father’s house, she enters into an unhappy marriage with a man who insults and beats her. And this is on top of the more general oppression of living as a black woman in the American South in the 1930s. A lot of this book seems to center around survival, and at the beginning of the narrative, this seems to be Celie’s only goal, which is difficult enough. She is quiet, afraid to stand up for herself, and she feels as if she is passing time until she can reach heaven. One of my favourite things about The Color Purple, however, is that it demonstrates many models of how to be a woman and how to survive. Nettie, Celie’s sister and only real family, is clever and defiant, and Sofia is passionate and proud and will return any violence aimed towards her. Despite all dealing with misogynoir, these women all respond differently and find different ways to survive and grow, and there are many more women (Shug, Mary Agnes, Tashi, etc) who fight against the racist and sexist limitations in their lives in their own ways.

Not only is there this abundance of diverse, complex female characters, but they also form a network of support with each other. Despite having very different personalities, and occasionally butting heads, as Celie’s life continues, she forms a nontraditional family that encompasses blood family, friends, exes, and a lot of what we would now consider polyamorous relationships. What seems to start this for Celie is her relationship with Shug, who is an on-again-off-again lover of her husband’s. When Celie sees a picture of Shug, she immediately falls for her, and eventually they enter into a relationship, despite both of their husbands. I wondered while reading it if Shug would be seen as a biphobic stereotype by today’s standards, because she freely moves between relationships with men and women, and is probably the most sexual character of the book. But she’s also such a strong, supportive, loving character that I personally can’t see it as negative. This relationship, along with her love of her sister, is really what felt like the core of the novel for me. Between her love of Shug and her sister, Celie is able to find support and piece together a family. She also–maybe because she grows up, maybe because she’s surrounded by so many take-no-shit women–develops a better sense of herself and what is possible in her life. Celie’s character growth is slow and subtle, and it’s so rewarding.

There is just so much packed into this book. Reading it once feels like just skimming the surface. Walker has so many interesting things to say about not only racism and sexism, but also colonialism in Africa, black women raising white women’s children, and religion and spirituality. The discussion that Shug and Celie have about the nature of God (and the color purple) is profound even for an atheist reader. I want to read more responses to The Color Purple, because I know that I have missed so much, and I know that this will be one to revisit over and over. I can’t believe that this novel has somehow had its lesbian content downplayed in my experience in how its discussed, not only because Celie is unabashedly gay, but also because this is a story that so obviously celebrates every kind of love between women. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.